Physical activity can improve the health and well-being of older adults

Incorporating regular physical activity can benefit every aspect of life and reduce health risks associated with chronic disease, including some cancers, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Regular exercise and physical activity is important for everyone, including older adults. It’s easy to make excuses, especially when it comes to incorporating more physical exercise into one’s daily routine. Some people might feel like they don’t have the time or energy. Family or work obligations may also get in the way of increasing physical activity. A health condition or the fear of getting injured could be other reasons for not being more active.

Exercise and physical activity is important for everyone, including older adults. According to a 2008 U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources report, regular physical activity can help:

  • Decrease risks associated with chronic conditions including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, Type 2 Diabetes and osteoporosis
  • Prevent weight gain and promote weight loss (when combined with reduced calorie intake)
  • Improve cardio respiratory and muscular fitness
  • Improve mental health and reduce depression

So, where should you start? If you’re already active and have no health restrictions, the recommendation for adults is a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of moderate to physical activity every week, along with muscle strengthening activities that work the major muscle groups. Moderate physical activities include brisk walking, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, bicycling at a leisurely pace, swimming or playing golf (if you pull or carry your clubs). Muscle strengthening activities include using free weights, digging or shoveling in a garden or carrying around your grandkids.

If you haven’t been active for a while, it’s not too late to start. Physical activity works best if it’s spread out during the course of the week and it can easily be broken into smaller increments of time during the day. The important thing is to start out slow, be realistic about what you can do and choose activities that you enjoy.

Older adults should consult with their doctor before increasing their activity level. It’s also important to consult with a health professional if you:

  • Have a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis or asthma
  • Take medication to manage a chronic condition
  • Have lung, liver or kidney disease
  • Have had joint replacement therapy
  • Smoke

Your doctor can work with you to develop an exercise plan that is safe, appropriate for your physical abilities and helps prevent injury or discomfort.

For more information about physical activity for older adults, check out Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging, How much physical activity do adults need? and Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

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